Amtrak Adirondack Service Off to Disappointing Start to the Summer

By Adam Mills | Intercity Rail and Bus

May 16
An Amtrak train pulling into Montreal's Gare Centrale

One of Amtrak’s three cross-border routes is off to another rocky start to the summer as New York City – Montreal Adirondack route will be cut back to Saratoga Springs from May 20 for ‘anticipated track work’ over the summer. Initially, this suspension was to run until to June 30 but it has now been extended to September 8, 2024

just North of Albany from May 20th to June 30th according to Amtrak public relations personnel. The cut to the route that operates one round-trip daily comes following a similar service suspension last summer from June 25th to September 11th 2023 after a brief post-covid return to cross-border service.

Alternative bus services remain available, with up to nine daily trips being provided by Trailways, Flixbus, and Greyhound; however people wishing to travel to intermediate destinations like Albany will only find two trips per day.

Amtrak has not been clear in their communication about this disruption or the extent of the track repairs that have been scheduled. An Amtrak spokesperson responded to a request for comment saying only that the service cuts are due to ‘anticipated track work’. The Empire State Passengers’ Association was able to determine the that the work will be on the 25-mile section of CN-owned track north of the border.

An electrified rail line in the Netherlands with a sun-kink where the rails deviate from their otherwise straight path
A Sun kink near Landgraaf, Netherlands.

The 2023 service suspension was a result of the threat of sun-kinks, an issue that occurs when high summer temperatures cause thermal expansion in the railway causing rails to deform. This is a tricky problem is not an unmanageable one given adequate maintenance, but with CN allowing the track to degrade to Class 2, which only allows passenger trains to travel at a maximum speed of 30 mph in regular operation, and with several additional slow orders, the risk of sun-kinks and other issues is heightened. It is hoped that these issues are now being fully addressed, following an agreement between Amtrak and CN. Although it is unfortunate timing given the arrival of the busy summer season, the re-laying of rail is temperature sensitive and generally easier to complete in the warmer months.

Transport Action has highlighted this and many other issues to the provincial and federal governments that are holding back this service from being the sustainable and competitive intercity and international transportation link that it could and should be. For reference, the average bus trip available today takes an average of 9 hours, however the train takes over 11 hours. Much of this can be addressed with public investment in track quality, as well as the creation of a border pre-clearance facility at Montreal’s Gare Centrale. Such a facility has been paid much lip-service and endless study by the federal government, however detailed engineering plans drafted by Amtrak in 2012 have been gathering copious amounts of dust while potential passengers have been waiting.

Since Amtrak’s efforts in 2012, both the US and Canada have passed the required legislation to allow for such a joint facility to be operated by CBSA and US Customs and Border Protection agents, but progress on the actual implementation of the facility has been glacial. Amtrak has indicated in the past that they would like to extended the Vermonter to Montreal but would only do so once improvements north of the border have been made.

Update – June 11: Elise Stefanik, Congressional Representative for New York’s 21st District which includes much of the route, has written to Tracy Robinson, CEO of Canadian National, and Roger Harris, President of Amtrak, demanding clarification of the reasons for the ongoing disruptions to the service.

Photo: Amtrak Adirondack at Montreal, Sean Marshall

Inset Photo: Sun kink near Landgraaf, NL. Credit:, CC BY-3.0

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